§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ (11. 30.) THE CHIEF SECRETARY FOR IRELAND (Mr. WYNDHAM, Dover)
said he felt it his duty to say one or 454 two sentences upon this Bill. As Irish Members were aware, the fisheries of Ireland were a great national asset. At one time they were worth £400,000 a year, and though at the present time they were not worth so much, they were getting back to their former value. Therefore this Bill dealt with a subject of great importance to Ireland. In recent years in this country, and perhaps more particularly in America, scientific investigations had proved that regulations for the protection of fisheries had an immediate effect in increasing the value of this great national asset. The Bill provided in place of the complicated set of provisions now in vogue that the cost of legal investigation should be borne in future by moneys voted by Parliament, and this was only limited by some very slight safeguards to prevent frivolous cases being brought forward. The Bill also contained precautionary provisions, in regard to those persons who claimed rights because they exercised their right of fishing three times a year. He had already referred to the great value of scientific investigation. Some people pretended that they were conducting scientific investigations who were really doing nothing of the kind. In the third Clause precautions were taken to see that those who were making scientific investigations were doing so, in order to search for truth and not for profit.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time." Debate arising.
said this Bill dealt with questions of vast importance, and if, in the past, more attention had been given to affording proper facilities to fishermen, the fisheries might have been made a 455 source of great income to Ireland. But both inland and sea fisheries had, like everything else under English rule in Ireland, dwindled away. While he admitted that this subject was one of very great importance, he wished to enter his protest against legislation of this kind being taken at the fag end of a debate, without proper opportunities being given for considering the pros and cons. He was not at present in a position to say whether this Bill would work out in the interests of the fisheries of Ireland or not. All the legislation which the right hon. Gentleman and his predecessors had brought forward, with regard to the inland and sea fisheries of Ireland, had always been brought forward at the fag end of a sitting or a session. Last year the Chief Secretary introduced a Bill dealing with the fisheries of Ireland, which they were asked to pass with little or no opportunity for discussion. They ought to be given a fair opportunity of discussing the merits or the demerits of such measures, and Bills ought not to be thrown at them under that system with which the name of the Chief Secretary had become identified with regard to Irish legislation. The question raised by the Clause 2, so far as his constituency was concerned, was of considerable importance to the not fishers on the river, and, if that observation applied to his constituency, it applied with greater force to the constituency represented by his hon. friend the Member for one of the divisions of County Cork. If he recollected properly, a Committee of his colleagues was asked to investigate the merits and demerits of this Bill last year. They went over the Bill carefully, and he understood they submitted certain Amendments to the right hon. Gentleman which they thought were 456 necessary to be inserted. He was informed that the right hon. Gentleman met these suggestions with a non possumus, and said they could not be acceded to. If that was the case, the situation had not altered since then, because he believed the gentleman who investigated the Bill had knowledge of this subject, and they decided that if the Amendments they suggested were, not adopted, the Bill, so far from doing good, would do harm to Ireland. Under these conditions, he did not think it was reasonable for the right hon. Gentleman to expect them at this hour to go into the merits of the Bill, which, he said, might be of great advantage, or the contrary, to the interests of the fisheries. It might appear a small matter to Members of this House, but it was a matter of great importance to Ireland, and it was for Irish Members to insist on better attention being given to their business, and that, at any rate, if the Government did put it down, it should be done at a time of the session and at a time of the day when they could fully consider the matter. As far as he could remember the opinion of his hon. friend and Leader the Member for Waterford, it was, that if the Amendments recommended by the Committee which was asked to consider the Bill were not accepted by the right hon. Gentleman, they were bound to oppose the Bill. He would expect some of his friends to move the Adjournment of the debate in order to give them an opportunity of considering a matter fraught with considerable importance to the men who ply the fishing industries. These industries were capable of large developments, but they must be careful how they did it.
§ MR. SHEEHAN (Cork Co., Mid)
said he fully endorsed the remarks of his hon. friend. He also fully endorsed the remark of the Chief Secretary that this matter was of great national importance and value to Ireland. Why did not the right hon. Gentleman take steps to make it of value by developing the fishing industries? The right hon. Gentleman said there was at present an income of something like £400,000, but if the Government paid proper attention to the development of the industries by means of State subsidies, there would be an income of millions. The Chief Secretary had referred to a sub-Section of Clause 1, which gave the Board of Agriculture the power to decide whether objections were frivolous or otherwise. That meant that it was to be in the power of this Board, which represented the land-owning class of Ireland, to refuse applications made by the poorest people of the country who were most concerned in the promotion of the fishing industries. He maintained if they were going to appoint a tribunal to decide whether an objection was frivolous or otherwise, it should be a tribunal representative of the people, and possessing their confidence. Such a tribunal would be found in the County Council or the District Council. According to the recent report of the Local Government Board these Councils had discharged their duties faithfully and well. This Bill had been submitted to the House without proper explanation as to its scope. They did not know how far it went, and how far it would benefit the fishermen class, but they did know that it was aimed at preserving the rights of the land-owning interests in Ireland. The statement about frivolous complaints and the denial of expenses was not directed against people who were wealthy and able to pay 458 their way, but against poor people who were supposed to make their living out of the industries. The Irish Members had not been given proper time to consider the Bill.
§ MR. THOMAS O'DONNELL (Kerry, W.)
said hon. Members for Ireland whose constituencies were interested in the fishing industries along the coast and in rivers, considered the Bill last session and suggested certain Amendments which were put down on the Paper. The Amendments were all rejected by the Chief Secretary, and the Bill for the time was dropped. Now they were asked at this late hour, and with little or no opportunity for preparation, to discuss this very important question, and to deal with a Bill which included in its scope the repeal or alteration of all the Acts of Parliament relating to the Irish fisheries passed between 1842 and 1901. It was ridiculous; it was impossible. One of the most important Amendments suggested to the right hon. Gentleman gave to the County Councils of Ireland, which were directly responsible to the people, and were most anxious to develop the fisheries, representation on the Board that managed the fisheries. That Amendment was not accepted, and until the County Councils got some representation on the Board, the Nationalist Members would persist in opposing the Bill, even though they might feel that a great change was necessary—and that the fisheries could not be developed until there was an alteration of the law. He moved the adjournment of the debate.
§ Motion made, and question proposed, "That the debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. Thomas O'Donnell)459
§ * MR. JOYCE (Limerick)
seconded the Motion. He said that during the past two sessions the hon. and learned Member for Waterford had on many occasions drawn attention to the practice of introducing Bills at a late hour, and trying to run them through, the House in a hugger-mugger fashion. That would not be allowed without severe and just criticism on the part of the Irish Members. The Chief Secretary, in his most honeyed accents, had stated that this was a very good Bill, but when, on a former occasion, a committee of Irish Members, who presumably knew something of the fisheries, submitted some reasonable Amendments, the right hon. Gentleman could not see his way to accept them. Well, the Irish Members could not see their way to let the Bill pass at this hour of the night, when it could not receive due and adequate discussion. That portion of the Bill in regard to hatcheries was very good, but the portions relating to close time were too ambiguous altogether. They feared very much that the close time provisions were aimed more at the hardworking, poor men who had to make a livelihood by fishing, than at the riparian proprietors in whose interest, he believed, this Bill had been brought forward. What did the Board of Agriculture know with regard to the inland or coast fisheries of Ireland? Surely it was a reasonable thing for the Irish Members to ask that the County Councils and Borough Councils should have due representation on the Board which managed the fisheries. The Chief Secretary would accept everything put forward in the interest of a certain class in Ireland, whose interest was inimical to that of the people. He represented a constituency interested in the greatest salmon and trout industry in Ireland, and he believed that this Bill, instead of 460 serving the interests of the poor fishermen on the Shannon, would be destructive of them. It would decrease rather than increase their earnings. They had been harried and hunted off the river enough already, and the legislation now proposed would hunt them further. He would oppose the Bill so far as in his power.
§ Debate to be resumed upon Thursday.